There are many places in California that garner the attention of the public for their outdoor experiences. Lake Tahoe is world-renown. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the most visited National Park in the country. Yosemite has a lot of yearly visitors. And the Humboldt redwoods are found on many lists of the top outdoor destinations in the country.
But there is one place that jam-packs an impressive list of outdoor adventures into one small geographical area.
Sitting below the large shadow of the majestic Mount Shasta is Redding, California. Although somewhat small (population: 90,000), the town sits as a gateway to some of the best outdoor experiences in the country. From illustrious peaks and pristine waterways, to massive waterfalls and low-traffic National Parks, there is simply no arguing the sheer beauty that surrounds Redding.
Not only is Redding a simply marvelous destination, it’s also easy to get to. It can be conveniently accessed via California’s Interstate 5, and now there is a direct flight from Los Angeles the Redding Airport. See the inexpensive and easy flight details for yourself.
I grew up in Redding, so this trip was a chance for me to escape the rat race of the Bay Area and show my fiance the outdoor destinations of my childhood. We only had a quick weekend to see as much as possible, but with my knowledge and a little hustle, we could see some of the best outdoor destinations NorCal has to offer in just 48 hours. Let’s go on an adventure!
Note: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area should be included on any list of things to do in Redding. Unfortunately, lasting effects of the Carr Fire left much of the park closed. When it reopens, its trails, waterfalls and crystal clear lake are a MUST-SEE destination.
Arriving into town on Friday evening is an exciting experience, as we stayed at the brand-new Sheraton Hotel, located adjacent to the Sacramento River and the world’s largest sundial – Redding’s Sundial Bridge.
After we checked into our hotel, we did a quick walkover to the bridge (it’s literally 2-minutes away) before we headed to a local downtown favorite for a quick dinner and celebratory drinks. We landed at Maxwell’s Eatery for a burger and a glass of (one of my favorite’s) Trout Slayer Ale.
So delicious! With full bellies and a couple beers in our system, we walked around downtown for a little bit, where we were able to take in the rustic Cascade Theater.
Although we were full of excitement, it was time to head back to the hotel and go to bed early. We had a long day ahead of us tomorrow!
We woke up early Saturday morning with a heavy docket of activities planned for the day. First, we made the hour drive northeast to the town of Burney which is home to the destination President Theodore Roosevelt dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Burney Falls is a 129-foot waterfall that cascades down two distinct pillars of glistening water to the pool below. There’s an overlook above the falls for the perfect photo shoot, and just a short stroll down a pathway will get you right in front of the beautiful waterfall, an experience I suggest for anyone with a love of the outdoors.
With heavy flows cascading down the cliff, the wind and mist emanating off the waterfall are a sight to behold. We saw a group of early-morning adventurers taking in the sunshine near the water and a fly fishermen searching for rainbow trout in the stream below.
We had taken our time to marvel at the beautiful waterfall, but wanted to make a quick trip over to one of the lesser-known National Parks in the country – Lassen Volcanic National Park. With much of the day still ahead of us and just a 45 minute drive away from Burney Falls, we were able to mark both these world-renown outdoor destinations off our bucket list in a day.
Home to four types of active volcanoes, including the 10,000-foot Lassen Peak which erupted a little over 100 years ago, Lassen Park is a hotbed of hydrothermal activity. You can choose to visit its hardcore volcanic sites, like the blistering but beautiful hike to Cinder Cone, or do what we did and simply enjoy the pristine waters of Manzanita Lake.
It was a perfect day on the lake, which sits as a stunning centerpiece of Lassen Park. We went for a swim in the blue (and a little chilly) waters with a picturesque view of the active volcano in the background. We saw families hiking around the lake and a fishermen on a float tube searching for brown trout. The lake has a large campground nearby suitable for any family with showers, flush-toilets and even coin operated laundry.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the Manzanita Lake Trail, a 1.6-mile trail that circles the lake and provides for many photo ops in the process. The day had me reminiscing of my childhood days at the lake and gave me an appreciation for what is otherwise a lesser-known park in California. While droves of city-folk head to places like Yosemite and the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer months, I’ll take Lassen any day.
We took Highway 44 for about 45 minutes back into town and I had to show off my local knowledge on our way back. We stopped at Holiday Market in Palo Cedro for one of the best deli sandwiches in area. With soft bread and perfectly fresh veggies, the sub hit the spot after a day of adventuring (there is also a location on Placer Street near downtown Redding and another off Hartnell Avenue).
We continued down Highway 44 for a couple more exits until we reached Old Oregon Trail where we had to stop off at the hidden-gem for craft beer enthusiasts – Wildcard Brewing Co. In recent years, they have opened a taphouse in downtown Redding, but visiting the brewery on the east side of town just has a different vibe. It’s a small, quaint little taphouse where you’ll likely run into the very people who brewed your beer.
I enjoyed two of their cornerstone craft beers. The first was Double Down, which is an imperial red ale that packs a solid punch with some delicious flavors. Next, I had to try the Shasta Strong IPA, which was a collaborative effort by four breweries in the area, with the proceeds of the beer going to Carr Fire victims.
Tired and giddy, we headed back to the Sheraton to get some rest for the next day and our final adventure.
Sunday was tricky, because we had to make the drive back home in the afternoon, but I knew a way we could see some of NorCal’s top destinations with just a simple bike ride.
We were determined to see most of the Sacramento River Trail, which is one of the most beautiful experiences you will find in California. As a kid, the trail was a simple 6-mile loop around the river just above Lake Redding. Now, the trail spans 12 miles for much of the west side of town and connects to trails that reach great destinations throughout the Redding area. On this day, we were determined to see the Sundial Bridge, the Sacramento River, Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta all in one exhilarating 38-mile roundtrip ride.
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We hopped on our bikes and headed across the Sundial Bridge with the Sacramento River’s morning flows giving us perfect temperatures for a morning jaunt. The bike ride continued along the north side of the river until we hit the historic Diestelhorst Bridge, which we stopped to snap a photo.
We continued down the north side of the river and with it being early morning, we only encountered one couple going for a morning stroll. Later in the day, the trail is full of runners, bikers, rollerbladers and enthusiastic walkers. As we passed the Ribbon Bridge, we filled up our water bottles and continued up the south side of the river toward the Rail Trail.
The paved trail goes up along the historic railroad bed with incredible views along the way. You’ll see sections of the Keswick Reservoir and even go through a 1923 railroad tunnel, with a windy and sometimes hilly ride heading up towards the dam. Eventually, we made it to the highlight of the ride – a stellar view of the Three Shastas – Shasta Dam, Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta.
Shasta Dam was built between 1937 and 1945 and takes water from the Sacramento, Pit and McCloud Rivers to create California’s largest reservoir. The lake is home to some of the best outdoor recreation in the country, with fishing, boating and Shasta Caverns giving every opportunity for an adventure. Seeing the Three Shastas in real life, highlighted by the 14,000-foot Mount Shasta (another active volcano) in the background, is something every Californian must see.
As I sat on Shasta Dam, I had an epiphany of how everything we had seen during the weekend was connected. The waters of Burney Falls met with the water of Lassen Park in Lake Britton, where it flows to Shasta Lake and on to the Sacramento River. The water I had seen at Burney Falls on Saturday might be the exact same water I was staring at in Shasta Lake. The tributaries of Northern California are a beautiful example of the power of nature.
We had a snack at the dam before heading back to town, completing the ride in just under 5 hours. As we got back to the Sundial Bridge, we stopped at the souvenir shop at Turtle Bay, where I bought a great book on the history of the area. Tired and full of satisfaction, we packed up and hopped in our car to head back home.
It was a whirlwind of an experience. Seeing my hometown from the view of an outdoor tourist was as emotionally satisfying as it was physically strenuous. We saw a 129-foot waterfall, two active volcanos, California’s largest lake, the countries eighth tallest dam and a Redding community that brings kindness and hospitality to the next level.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure on the West Coast, forget the tourists traps of Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. You’ll find all the adventure you need in Redding, California.